Angélique Kidjo's Remain In Light and Femi Kuti & The Positive Force
Denver Botanic Gardens - York Street
Featured Artist #1
Angélique Kidjo's Remain In Light and Femi Kuti & The Positive Force
Three-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo is one of the greatest artists in international music today, a creative force with thirteen albums to her name. Time Magazine has called her "Africa's premier diva". The BBC has included her in its list of the continent's 50 most iconic figures, and in 2011 The Guardian listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World. Forbes Magazine has ranked Angelique as the first woman in their list of the Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa. She is the recent recipient of the prestigious 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and the 2016 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award.
As a performer, her striking voice, stage presence and fluency in multiple cultures and languages have won respect from her peers and expanded her following across national borders. Kidjo has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America.
Angélique Kidjo's latest project is her interpretation of The Talking Heads' classic 1980 album, Remain in Light. She will record her version of the album with superstar producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift), taking classic songs such as "Crosseyed and Painless," "Once in a Lifetime," and "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" and reinterpreting them with electrifying rhythms, African guitars, and layered backing vocals. In 2017, Angélique premiered this musical extravaganza at New York's Carnegie Hall, with a U.S. festival debut at Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN.
Speaking about her inspiration behind the project, Kidjo says, "As Remain in Light was influenced by the music of my continent, I want to pay back the homage and create my own African take on Talking Heads' songs. We all know that rock music came from the blues and thus from Africa. Now is the time to bring rock back to Africa, connect our minds, and bring all our sounds to a new level of sharing and understanding."
Released on October 8, 1980, Talking Heads' Remain in Light was a revolution of pop music innovation, pushing sonic boundaries with sampled and looped grooves inspired by legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. The album demonstrates that both the Talking Heads and producer Brian Eno experimented with African polyrhythms while simultaneously drawing lyrical inspiration from African academic literature. Certified gold by the RIAA and consistently ranked among the most important and influential albums of all time, Remain in Light remains an eternal milestone, its brave vision and extraordinary power still as daring and innovative as ever before.
Her star-studded album DJIN DJIN won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Album in 2008, and her album OYO was nominated for the same award in 2011. In January 2014 Angélique's first book, a memoir titled Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music (Harper Collins) and her twelfth album, EVE (Savoy/429 Records), were released to critical acclaim. EVE later went on to win the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 2015, and her historic, orchestral album Sings with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg (Savoy/429 Records) won a Grammy for Best World Music Album in 2016.
Angelique has gone on to perform this genre-bending work with several international orchestras and symphonies including the Bruckner Orchestra, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Philharmonie de Paris. Her collaboration with Philip Glass, IFÉ: Three Yorùbá Songs, made its US debut to a sold out concert with the San Francisco Symphony in June 2015. In addition to performing this new orchestral concert, Angelique continues to tour globally performing the high-energy concert she's become famous for with her four-piece band. Her rousing live show was recently captured at the revered Austin City Limits and made its television debut in January 2016.
Angelique also travels the world advocating on behalf of children in her capacity as a UNICEF and OXFAM goodwill Ambassador. She created her own charitable foundation, Batonga, dedicated to support the education of young girls in Africa.
Featured Artist #2
Femi Kuti is the heart and soul of modern Afrobeat. Femi's father, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, created the style - a blend of traditional Nigerian drum patterns, the smooth groove of highlife and American soul, funk and R&B – and took it to the world, inspiring people with insistent dance beats and lyrics bristling with political statements. Afrobeat moved several generations of musicians, in Nigeria and around the world, to follow Fela's dictum and use music as a weapon to fight for justice and freedom. Femi and his band, Positive Force, are at the forefront of that movement, continually expanding the music's vocabulary, adding hints of punk and hip-hop to the sound, while maintaining its traditional roots and political message.
When he's home in Nigeria, Femi and his band play at The Shrine, the dancehall and concert space he built as a memorial to his father. The club is the eye of the global Afrobeat storm, a gathering place for fans old and new, a rallying spot for activists and dancers. As a spokesperson for UNICEF's crusade for the rights of children and an advocate for HIV/AIDS education and prevention, Femi is recognized as a community leader and an inspiration for African resistance to the remnants of colonial mentality and economic hardship.
The Shrine's Sunday Jumps draw more listeners than can possibly fit into the club. "When we built it, there was nothing around The Shrine," Femi says. "Over the years, a neighborhood of homes and businesses sprang up. The Shrine has become one of the most famous places in the country. We keep the price low, so everybody can afford the show." The Shrine allows Femi's music to develop organically, driven by his weekly interactions with the alternative cultural and political voices of his fans, feelings that are then amplified by the music.
One People, One World sees Femi returning to the music's African roots. Hints of reggae, highlife, soul, R&B and other African, Caribbean and African American flavors go swirling through the mix, adding depth and complexity to the arrangements, but the influences don't distract from Femi's signature sound. "When I was a boy, I listened to funk, highlife, jazz, folk songs, classical music and my father's compositions, so you will hear those things in the music, but everything on this record comes strictly from my heart and soul. Like Africa itself, Afrobeat has endless possibilities within its structure. As we play live at The Shrine, the songs evolve, absorbing the energy of the audience. It's like painting, with the changing hues and tones of the dancers coloring the music. When we it take it into the studio, you hear all of those influences moving together."
One People, One World is pure Afrobeat, with the potent horn lines Femi created for the band punching up the tempo, driving everything forward at a frenetic pace. The new album is still political but, for the first time, there are love songs and celebrations of our common humanity. "Yes, the music is more uplifting, more optimistic," Femi says. "I'm a father and I love my kids, so I want to give the younger generation a message of hope. Despite all our problems, we can create greatness in our lives."
Femi recorded most of the album in chaotic Lagos, with musicians from Positive Force, and his son, Omorinmade Anikulapo – Kuti. "My son, Made, is studying music in England at Trinity College, the same place his grandfather Fela Kuti studied, and played piano and bass on many of the tracks," Femi says. "His contribution brought an intimacy to the sessions. Having Made play with me, and give me advice on the arrangements, was lovely."
"One People, One World" is a plea for global unity, with a sizzling call and response between the horn section and Femi's sincere vocal. Awomolo Opeyemi's rippling soukous guitar, Andrew Aghedo's reggae-influenced bass line and Ayodele Alaba's crackling drum kit take the song deeper. "This is a straight forward dance tune," Femi says. "When you look at what's going on in Africa, Europe and America, it's important to keep the dream of unity alive."
"Africa Will Be Great Again" has a profoundly African melody and a hint of the Caribbean in its syncopated arrangement. Multi-layered percussion, Femi's soulful organ and the jubilant horns urge us to rise above corruption and dance into a new dawn. "The energy of the horns takes the music to a different level for me. I like short powerful phrases that will propel you to the dance floor."
Other standouts include the Afrofunk of "Best To Live on the Good Side," "Evil People," with its hint of samba, and the secular gospel of "The Way Our Lives Go (Rise and Shine)," a gentle R&B ballad with a jubilant chorus answering Femi's quiet prayer for peace. Femi's sax toys with the melody to augment the swing of "Na Their Way Be That." Then he dances around Opeyemi's Congolese guitar work and the layers of Latin percussion, adding a buoyant feel to the track. "E Dey Their Body" rides a tidal wave of blazing horns, multi-layered percussion that hints at the second line strut of New Orleans, icy organ stabs and Femi pleading for a return to political sanity. "On this album, I kept to my roots and let the music flow through me, without diluting it. I didn't think funk, or Afrobeat, or anything else. If you hear something in the melodies, it may be there, but as a composer, I surrendered to the higher forces that give me this gift to play music and let it flow out of me."